Status of the Prophet:
Generally the term ‘prophet’ is defined as a divinely inspired and divinely appointed teacher who brings the message of religion, reveals and interprets God’s commandments, and instructs men as to the conduct of life in this world. The prophet is a higher soul, inspired by God and Spiritual Beings and advanced in spiritual insight.
According to the Avesta, Zarathushtra was the divinely appointed and divinely inspired prophet. The Avestan word for ‘prophet’ is ashta, asta. In Avesta, Zarathushtra is accorded a very high and lofty status. He is referred to as a Yazata, that is, a divine Being. In many places he is remembered immediately after Ahura Mazda, before other Divine Beings.
Zarathushtra himself was also a priest. He belonged to the brotherhood of priests called Magava (Gathas 33.7, 51.15). These were priests who understood the workings of nature and were also adept at inner rituals. These priests were referred to as Magis by the Greeks. Words like ‘magic’ have come down into the English language from the Avestan word magava.
ZOROASTRIANISM is the oldest revealed religion in the world and its prophet, the first prophet in the world. The extant Avesta scriptures do not provide any direct evidence as to the age in which Prophet Zarathushtra lived, and hence it is calculated from various other indirect sources based on historical, literary, linguistic, astronomical, geological and archaeological evidences. The existing general opinion of the scholars place him between 6500 B.C. to600 B.C.
(A) About 6500 B. C.
Greek & Roman Writers: The earliest Greek and Roman writers have preserved traditions about the date of Prophet Zarathushtra on the basis of three starting points – the expedition of Xerxes; the Trojan war; and the death of Plato. The result in each case is approximately similar.
- Diogenes Laertes( 3rd century A.C.) quoting Xanthus (6th century B.C.) says that Zoroaster lived about 6480 B. C.,
- According to Hermodorus(3rd century B.C.) Zoroaster lived about 6180 B. C.
- Plinythe Elder (23-79 A. C.) quoting Eudoxus (868 B.C.) puts Zoroaster at about 6347 B. C.
- Hermippus(about 250 B. C.) puts Zoroaster at about 6180 B. C.
- Plinythe Elder places Zoroaster thousands of years after Moses, and the Jews.
Herodotus is the only Greek writer who puts Zarathushtra at 600 B.C.
Other later writers have not contradicted the ancient Greek and Roman writers them, and have quoted them with approval. Had there been any Iranian tradition about a later date of the prophet during their time, it would have been surely quoted by these or other writers.
Great Deluge/Ice Age: Great Deluge is Geologically placed at around 10th millennia B.C. If one identifies with the event during the time of King Jamshed, and works backwards, the era of Zarathushtra would be around 6th millennia B.C.
Linguistic: Comparing the language of the Rig Veda with the Gathas and calculating the antiquity of Avesta language, one comes to the age of Zarathushtra around 6th millennia B.C.
Astronomical: Astronomical positions as recorded in Avestan books, especially the Yashts, point to 5th-6th millennium B.C. s the time of prophet Zarathushtra.
The following scholars conform to the above dates:
B.T.Anklesaria – 6000 B.C.; S.J.Bulsara – 6500 B.C. (On the basis of Great Deluge)
I.J.S.Taraporewala – 3500 B.C. & A.F.Khabardar- 5000 B.C. (On the basis of Astronomy), B.G.Tilak – 4500 B.C. (On the basis of Philology).
(B) Around 2100 – 1500 BC:
Some scholars, based on internal evidences in the Avesta, place Zarathushtra in middle Bronze age. Archaeologically the dates of Bronze Age are fixed between 2100 to 1500 BC. The chronology of the creations in the Bible has also influenced the fixing of this date. The scholars who support this date are: Mary Boyce (1500 B.C); K.R. Cama (1200- 2300 BC); J.M.Unwala (1100-1400 BC).
Some Pahlavi texts and sources based on them give the date of Zarathushtra around 600 B.C. The Pahlavi texts Ardā Virāz Nāmag and Selections of Zādspram state that the religion of prophet Zarathushtra was in pure state for 300 years, and thereafter Iran was invaded and the Avesta was burnt by Alexander (330 B. C.) On the basis of this text the date of Zarathushtra would be 630 B.C.
The Bundahishn gives the regnal years of the kings and dynasties from Kay Vishtasp to Alexander which add up to 258 years. According to this text second figure, the birth of Prophet Zarathushtra : 42 (age of Zarathushtra when King Vishtasp accepted the religion) +258+330 = 630 B. C. Both these figures give the same date.
The traditions regarding Prophet Zarathushtra in later writings in Modern Persian, Arabic and Syriac are all based on either of the above Pahlavi books.
Based on the above chronology A.V.W.Jackson and E.W.West have fixed the dates of prophet Zarathushtra between 600-700 B.C. However most modern scholars have rejected this date as being too unreasonable a date for the birth of the prophet.
The main reason for the faulty chronology is the tradition in the Bundahishn according to which the world would last for 12000 years. In this chronology, the beginning of the 10th millennium was marked by the birth of the prophet and the end of it would be marked by the end of the Sasanian dynasty. The writers of those days were compelled to squeeze and cram all events of ancient history from Prophet Zarathushtra to the Arab conquest of Iran in this period of 1000 years. They therefore calculated the duration of events as best as they could, and assigned the regnal years (which do not tally even approximately with the regnal years of known history) accordingly. Hence the statements in Pahlavi texts are based on unreliable figures.
The actual birthplace of Zarathushtra is a contentious issue, but it is generally agreed that he was born in the North-Western part of modern day Iran. The Avesta (Vd.19) only mentions that the house of Zarathushtra’s father was in the Airyana Vaejah near the river Veh Dāiti. Bundahishna chapters 20.32 and 24.15 corroborates this reference. Some Pahlavi sources place him in West Iran in Azarbaizan, Ragha or Shiz.
When Zarathushtra propagated the religion, the region of Bactria formed the heartland of Iran, the place which was situated in now what is the confluence of Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikstan.
Name and Family
The personal name of the Prophet, as it occurs in the Avesta, is Zarathushtra . The name of the prophet is variously explained, but the two most commonly accepted meanings are “one possessing a golden (coloured) camel” and “the golden star.” The word zarat means “old, aged, matured” and ushtra means “Camel.” However in esoteric writing ushtra also means consciousness (just as aspa “horse” also means senses.) Thus the word Zarathushtra can also mean “one having exalted consciousness.” The other meaning of Zarathushtra is “golden star” It reflects the meanoing in the Greek form of the name.
In Pahlavi the name appears as Zartusht, and in Modern Persian and other languages it occurs in various forms, but generally Zardusht. It is variously written even in ancient Greek and Roman writings, but the most frequent form is Zoroaster, which is generally used in English and other European languages.
Spitama is the family name of the Prophet, and it means “whitest, purest.” It is the name of his ninth ancestor. Hence, the Prophet is known as Zarathushtra Spitama in Avesta or Zartusht Spitaman in Pahlavi.
Other words are used as honorific titles of the prophet. The title Asho implies one who is righteous and who has understood the Truth, and known his Purpose in Life. Persian prefixes like Vakhshure–Vakhshurān “Prophet of prophets,” Ahurānā “belonging to Ahura” and ramz–go “revealer of divine secrets” are also use before the prophet’s name.
Zarathushtra’s father was Pourushaspa “one possessing gray horse”, who was the son of Peteraspa. Zarathushtra’s mother’s name was Dughdhova often shortened to Dogdo “one who milks.” She was the daughter of Frahimvā Zavish.
According to tradition, Zarathushtra had two elder brothers RATUSHTRA and RANGHUSHTRA and two younger brothers NOTRIGA and NIVATUSH.
According to Yasna 29.1 Geush Urvan (the Soul of the Earth) complained to the Creator about the abuses being heaped upon it in the following words
khshmaibyā geush urvā gerezdā, kahmāi mā thwarōzhdūm ke mā tashat;
ā mā aēshemō hazaschā remō, āhushuyā dareshchā tevishchā;
nōit mōi vāstā khshmat anyō, athā mōi sāstā vōhū vāstryā.
“The soul of the earth lamented – “Why have you created me? Why have you fashioned me? Wrath, rapine, savagery oppression pains me. I have no protector other than You, so send me a good Saviour.”
The Creator consulted the Divine Beings and proclaimed that there was just one being who can help – Zarathushtra Spitama. The Soul of the Earth was not consoled as it sought support of a materially powerful prince, while according to the divine council the remedy for the ills of the world was the spiritual power of a prophet. Finally, after much deliberations, the appointment of Zarathushtra was confirmed.
Much before Zarathushtra’s birth, arrangements were made for his arrival. His Khoreh “Divine Energy” was sent to his mother DOGDO through his grand-mother. It came from the Khoreh was sent through their hearth fire. As a result of this Khoreh, his mother radiated divine energy since a very young age. The evil ones, threatened by this divine occurrence, labeled her wicked and attempted to kill her.
Dogdo was sent to the house of Peteraspa. This pious man from the illustrious priestly family of Spitama had descended from the royal line of King Faridun of the Peshdadian dynasty. Later Peterasp’s son Pourushaspa married Dogdo.
AHURA MAZDA and other divine beings had taken great care to send prophet Zarathushtra to a very noble family. Just as his Khoreh was sent in advance, so were his Fravashi “Guardian Spirit” and physical components of his body were also sent in special ways to his parents through divine beings.
After deliberations with the Ameshaspands, Ahura Mazda decided to send Zarathushtra in human form to the earth. The selection of Spitama and Zavish family was made as they had descended from king Jamshed.
His Khoreh (divine energy) was sent to his mother DOGDO when she was in the womb of her mother.
His Fravashi was sent in a stalk of Hom with bahman and Ardibahesht Ameshaspands, where the stalk was grafted on a tree. Years later when Pourushasp came to take Hom for ritual, the Ameshaspands intuitively guided him to that tree, and the stalk came down by itself within reach of Purushasp. He immediately recognized it as a special stalk and took it. Till the stal was on the tree it guarded the eggs of two birds from a serpent, who used to come and devour their eggs. The presence of the stalk did not allow the serpent to come to that tree.
The essence of his physical body was brought by Khordad and Amardad Ameshaspands to the clouds which poured water through rains from which grass grew which was eaten by six white cows. Thus the essence of Zarathushtra came into the cows. Two of these cows attained to milk without giving birth, and for this reason Pourushasp selected them, collected their milk. This milk and Hom was then mixed, consecrated and then he and Dogdova drank it.
Thus the Divine Energy, Fravashi and physical essence of Zarathushtra came in the two parents.
When Dogdobanu was five and a half months pregnant, AHRIMAN, the evil spirit tried to prevent prophet Zarathushtra from coming to this world. He attempted to kill the baby in the mother’s womb. Dogdobanu had frightening dreams at night in which wild animals like tigers, wolves and serpents tried to harm the child in her womb, but no harm came to the baby as a divine looking young man with a book in one hand and a stick in another came to their rescue, and the evil animals fled at his sight. Later, a wise man explained to Dogdobanu that the divine looking man was none other than SAROSH YAZAD.
Three days before Zarathushtra’s birth, his entire village was bathed in white light, one of the signs signaling the coming of the great prophet. Finally Zarathushtra was born during the early morning hours. on Roj Khordad, Mah Fravarden. This day is celebrated presently as Khordad Sal.
Zarathushtra is the only child who laughed at the time of his birth, since he was aware of his divine mission and the victory of good over evil in the end. Seven neighbouring ladies, who had come with the intent to hurt the child, retreated on seeing this great miracle.
At the birth of the prophet, all creations in nature rejoiced and cried out in joy ‘Ushtā no zātō āthrava yō spitāmō zarathushtrō’, that is, “Rejoice, for us is born the priest Spitama Zarathushtra.”
The evil and wicked persons were terrified by the divine light. As soon as they came to know of the birth of this divine child, they trembled as they were afraid that he would put an end to their evil powers and practices. They decided to kill babe Zarathushtra.
Chief among the wicked followers of Ahriman was the evil chieftain Dorasrun. He tried several times to have baby Zarathushtra killed, but each time the child was divinely saved.
Dorasrun had the baby thrown into a fire, but the fire did not burn the child, as Adar Yazad, the divine being presiding over fire, had made the fire cool, and so the baby was unharmed. In the evening Dogdobanu went searching for baby Zarathushtra, and found him smiling on a heap of ashes. She lovingly carried away the baby in her arms.
Doroasrun then had the child placed in a narrow passage, which was the pathway to a herd of cattle, so that he may be trampled upon by the animals. However when the herd came that way, a white cow, inspired by the divine being Gosh Yazad, stood over the child, protecting it from the rest of the cattle. She did not move till the last of the animals had passed. Later in the evening a worried Dogdobanu went searching for baby Zarathushtra, and found the smiling babe on the pathway. She lovingly carried the baby away in her arms.
Infant Zarathushtra was then kept in the pathway of horses going towards their watering hole. There too a white horse, inspired by Dravasp Yazad, stood over the child and protected it. In the evening Dogdobanu went searching for baby Zarathushtra, and found him lying on the path with a smile on his face. She lovingly carried away the baby in her arms.
The angry Dorasrun tried one last dirty trick. In a den of wolves he had the wolf cubs killed and then ordered baby Zarathushtra to be placed inside the den near the dead cubs, hoping that the wolves will come and angry at the sight, tear the child apart. As soon as the wolves arrived, they were angered by the sight that befell their eyes. They tried to attack the child, but were stopped by an invisible fortification, a divine protective shield surrounding the baby. They could not go near the child.
Then two goats came in the den and throughout the day, the hungry child was fed by the goats. It was Bahman Ameshaspand and Sarosh Yazad who had assumed the form of goats to nurture the child till its mother arrived. The following morning, a worried Dogdobanu went searching for baby Zarathushtra. She was relieved to hear the voice of her child in the den. She ran in and lovingly carried away the smiling baby in her arms.
Dorasrun now decided to kill baby Zarathushtra himself. He took a sharp dagger in his evil hands and went to Pourushaspa pretending to meet and play with baby Zarathushtra. As soon as Pourushaspa took him near the child, the wicked Dorasrun brought out his dagger and raised it to stab the child. But instantly, he lost strength in his hands. His hands were paralysed and thereafter he was not able to do any work with his hands. Thus, all attempts to kill baby Zarathushtra were in vain, as he was divinely protected. Thus child Zarathushtra grew up protected by Ahura Mazda.
Childhood of the prophet:
When Zarathushtra reached the age of 7, he was sent to be educated under a teacher named Burzin Kurush. Here he kept asking about the reason for there being so much evil, pain and misery in the world. Zarathushtra was not satisfied by the explanations given to him.
Attempts on his life continued. When he was 12 years old, two evil magicians – Bratrokesh and Dorasrub tried to frighten Zarathushtra by their magic. Once when Zarathushtra’s was ill, they went to his house dressed as physicians and gave him poisonous potions instead of medicine, but Zarathushtra, by divine guidance came to know of the evil trick and did not drink it. Zarathushtra advised the two evil men to leave their wicked ways and requested his father never to entertain such men in their house. It is said that when the evil one’s were returning, they were attacked by a crippling disease.
At 15, Zarathushtra’s quest for divine truth intensified. He started spending more and more time helping the needy and deserving and alleviating the sufferings of the people. He not only helped needy men with food and clothing, but showed kindness towards all of God’s good creations. He started seeing in all the good creations a spark of the divine. He spent much of his time in prayers. Questions about the cause of the misery in the world and the plight of the needy people kept on bothering him.
He felt that he needed to do much more in the world and decided to set off in search for the Truth. He sought permission from his father, who, knowing the divine destiny of his son, readily agreed. When he asked Zarathushtra as to what he would like from his possessions, Zarathushtra answered that he would just like to have the Kasti. This showed that Zarathushtra was eager to accept the good teachings and practices from the Mazdayasni religion in which he was born.
When Zarathushtra was 20, he was divinely guided to a secluded place on Mount Ushidarena, ‘the Mount holding divine intellect’. He stayed on the mountain for 10 years, and devoted his time and energy in prayer, meditation and communion with Divine Beings. There he received divine inspiration and message of the Religion through Divine Beings, particularly Vohu Manah and Sraosha. The reference to Mount Ushidarena (the loftiest receptacle of consciousness) can be taken as an allegorical reference to the deep state of meditation that Zarathushtra must have entered to receive the revelation.
Zarathushtra also received the special Kayan Khoreh which was the Divine Energy associated with the Kayanian kings – the true authority representative of Ahura Mazda’s power on earth. Zarathushtra was guided to go to eastern Iran. On his way, it is said that he had to cross a river. Unable to find a boatman, and going by his inner voice he was able to walk over the waters of the river. This miracle gave him the confirmation that his appointed divine mission had now started.
At the age of 30, Zarathushtra returned to the people to preach the religion. Prophet Zarathushtra accepted many of the teachings and practices of the Mazdayasni faith into which he was born.
In the initial stages, the Prophet had to struggle to spreading his unique message, as he had no following. The Evil Spirit ordered the Demon of Deceit to kill Zarathushtra and the Demon rushed threateningly. Zarathushtra chanted the short prayer of Ahuna Vairya and the Demon fled away proclaiming utter defeat. Zarathushtra perceived that the demons were plotting his death. Utterly helpless, the Evil Spirit tried to pacify and win over the Prophet by offering kingship as a bribe for renouncing the Mazdayasni Religion. Rejecting the offer outright, Zarathushtra firmly replied : “Never shall I renounce the good Mazdyasni Religion – not even if my body, life and consciousness would tear asunder !”
Finally, Prophet Zarathushtra triumphed. His first disciple was his paternal cousin Maidyoimaongha, the son of Arastya. Other early disciples of the Prophet were Asmokhanvant, Saena Ahumstut, Isatvastra, Urvatatnara and Hvarechithra.
In Balkh, Kayanian King Vishtasp / Gushtasp invited him to his court and given a high status.
Jealous courtiers poisoned the king’s mind by planting materials used for black magic in his room. The king was heart-broken when the materials were found. He ordered Zarathushtra to be imprisoned, where he spent his days with great dignity.
Once the king’s favourite horse, Aspe-sihā’s legs got embedded in his stomach. None was able to cure the horse. Zarathushtra offered to heal the horse on certain conditions to which the king agreed. Zarathushtra healed the legs by chanting the Ahunavar prayer. As per the condition, the king, Prince Aspandiyar, queen Katabun / Katayun / Hutaosa accepted Zarathushtra and the
guard of the room was questioned, whereby Zarathushtra’s innocence was proved.
The story of Aspe-sihā has a hidden meaning behind it, of the king’s mind being opened by the power of prayers.
Prophet Zarathushtra preached his religion in the court of King Vishtasp. After intellectual discussions and spiritual experiences King Vishtasp recognized Zarathushtra as the true prophet of Ahura Mazda and he became the patron-king of Zarathushtra.
Once King Vishtasp expressed the fulfillment of four desires before the prophet. He asked Zarathushtra to visit heaven in his lifetime to see the places therein, to know about the past and the future, to be immortal till the end of this world, and to have a body, which would not be harmed by weapons.
Prophet Zarathushtra informed the good king that he cannot grant all the above wishes to one man, and so he would grant them to any four men whom the king selects. He further gave the choice to the king to select his wish. The king selected to visit heaven as his gift and suggested the names of his sons Peshotan and Aspandyar and his wise Minister Jamasp, as the recipients of the other gifts.
The following day, prophet Zarathushtra consecrated certain offerings and presented them to the four royal people. To King Vishtasp was given the consecrated wine and his wish of visiting heaven was fulfilled. The minister Jamasp was made to smell a flower and he got the gift to see into the past and the future. Peshotan was given milk and he gained immortality till the end of time. Crown prince Aspandyar was given pomegranate and he became Rooyin tan, that is, his body became as strong as bronze. Henceforth, no weapons would be able to harm him.
Gifts for the King:
Prophet Zarathushtra presented three gifts to King Gushtasp as a further proof of his prophetship:
1) Adar Burzin, a spiritually burning fire which did not need fuel to burn, and did not give out smoke while burning. This fire is often seen in prophet Zarathushtra’s hand in some of his pictures. Later the King enthroned the Adar Burzin fire on Mount Raevant.
2) A Cypress tree named ‘Azad-Sarva’ which had an advise for King Gustasp on its every leaf .
3) 21 Volumes (Nasks) of Avestasn scriptures, containing all the knowledge of the world. Each of the Nask was based on one of the 21 words of the Yatha Ahu Vairyo prayer.
One of the 21 Nasks also contained the 5 Gathas of prophet Zarathushtra.
The Gathas contain the prophet’s personal experiences and his spiritual teachings in a highly mystical poetic language. The five Gathas are: Ahunavad, Ushtavad, Spentomad, Vohukhshathra and Vahishtoisht. Because of the highly philosophic teachings in the Gatha, the prophet is referred to as one of the greatest philosophers of all time. However, for this reason, many people just consider the prophet as a great philosopher. This is a very mistaken idea as prophet Zarathushtra was a divine being of a high spiritual status and one who was born for a divine purpose.
The prophet instructed the king to have special fires enthroned in buildings erected specially for that purpose. Prophet Zarathushtra also made all evil forces flee underground in the earth.
Members of the royal family, Queen Hutaosa (Ketayun), prices Aspandyar and Peshotan, the king’s brother Zarir, and his ministers Jamasp and Frashaoshtra accepted Zarathushtra as the Prophet. Later, the Religion was accepted by the Iranian people.
As his fame started spreading in the world, people started regarding him with awe. Great and wise men from all over the world came to see him. Philosopher Tutianus from Greece came to meet him. The moment he saw his face, he inquire about his day and time of birth and was instantly convinced of his greatness. Changranghāch and Vyās came from India to meet the prophet. After spending some time with him, they were immediately convinced of his greatness, as he was able to predict their questions even before they could ask them.
In the Avestan there is no reference either to the prophet’s marriage or about his wife and children. In later works we are told that prophet Zarathushtra married Havovi, daughter of Frashoshtra, and had six children – three sons Isad-vastra, Haurvatat-nar and Khurshed-cheher; and three daughters Freny, Thrity and Pouruchishti.
A still later tradition hints at more than 1 marriage and more children. These references may have hidden meanings, as at one place it is indicated that three sons will be born after thousands of years, as the future saviours – Hoshedar, Hoshedar-mah & Soshyos.
The persons referred to as his wife and children may be divine entities created by the prophet to assist him in his mission.
Zarathushtra spent the later part of his life at the Navbahar Atash Behram with Kae Lohrasp, father of King Vishtasp.
Prophet Zarathushtra passed away at the age of 77 years and 11 days. Nothing has been stated, directly or indirectly in the Avesta about passing away of Prophet Zarathushtra. It is mentioned only in Pahlavi and Persian books. The special phrase used in Pahlavi for passing away of the Prophet is vihez i zartusht ‘rising up/ ascension of Zartusht’ (Denkard Book VII, preamble of Ch.IV and V). Saddar Bundahishn says that after fulfilling his mission Zarathushtra went to ‘Eran Vej’
Later Persian tradition notes that Zarathushtra was murdered by a Turanian soldier Tur-barā-Tur, and the prophet, in retaliation killed him by flinging his rosary on him. This is unlikely, as Zarathushtra’s Divine Energy (Khvarena) protected him. Even Angra Mainyu was not able to harm him. (Dk., Vd.19, Ashi Yasht 2.20; Zamyad Yasht 80,81; Yasna 9.12,13). Thus the possibility of an ordinary mortal killing the prophet is unlikely. The Persian reference may be explained in another way. The Bahman Yasht refers to Tur-barā-Tur as a collection of negative energies the destruction of which was very necessary for resurrection and renovation.
The day of passing away of the Prophet is known in Gujarati as Zarthosht no diso “the (death-)day of Zarthosht”, and is observed on Roz Khorshed, Mah Dae.
After the prophet’s passing away from this world, Jamasp, the minister of King Gushtasp who was one of his foremost disciples, became the religious head. Jamasp, and all religious heads after him came to be known a Zarathushtrotemo.
Prophet Zarathushtra gave a powerful religion to the people of Iran by reinforcing the teachings of the existing Mazdayasni belief system and adding to it his own teachings. In this religion there was a strong moral order, a set of rituals, practices for daily life and 21 Volumes (Nasks) of religious scriptures in the Avesta language.